Ohio Judge Says He Calls ICE If He Has Hunch A Defendant Is Undocumented

Screengrab/WCPO.com | 9 On Your Side/YouTube

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Judge Robert Ruehlman said he singles out people who need interpreters, speak Spanish or are accused of drug crimes.

A trial court judge in Ohio caused outrage this month after he admitted to Cincinnati news outlets that he calls Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers if he suspects a defendant might be undocumented, according to The Washington Post.

Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman acknowledged he is merely operating on a hunch when he makes the calls but insists that he has never been wrong.

What is Ruehlman’s criteria for calling ICE? “He focuses on people who need interpreters or speak Spanish, have international connections or are accused of serious drug crimes,” The Post reported.

“I don’t see where the outrage is,” Ruehlman told WLWT in Cincinnati. “Number one, they’re an illegal alien. They’re not supposed to be here, so they’re breaking the law. Number two, they’re in front of me for a felony. ”

Civil liberty and immigration advocates in Ohio were alarmed by the judge’s admission — particularly as it coincides with the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration across the country.

But Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies — which The Post noted is “a conservative think tank that favors restricting immigration” — said Ruehlman’s attitude is not uncommon, even if his public admission is unusual.

“Noncooperation or being oblivious to immigration status is the aberration today: While we hear about sanctuary judges or ordinances or prohibitions on interactions with ICE, that’s the exception. There are about 300 out of 3,000 counties that don’t call ICE,” Vaughan said.

“This is a different kind of virtue signalizing where this judge wants to raise his hand and say, ‘I’m not one of these sanctuary judges,’ ” she added. “He seems confident this is something people in his jurisdiction approve of.”

Ruehlman told WCPO that there is “no harm, no foul” in what he does, because if the defendant turns out to be undocumented, he or she has no business being in the United States; and if it turns out the defendant is a U.S. citizen, they face no repercussions.

But others argue there is room for ample harm, particularly if the defendant is in fact undocumented.

Heather Prendergast, an Ohio immigration attorney and the former chair of the pro-immigrant rights American Immigration Lawyers Association’s ICE Liaison Committee, told The Post that removing an undocumented immigrant accused of a crime can be detrimental for victims who lose the chance for justice.

“If the process is complete and they’re found guilty, that’s one thing. But when ICE doesn’t allow [defendants] to particulate in the court process and have a resolution and they get deported, they have an unresolved criminal case in the U.S. still,” Prendergast said. “It denies the victims of crimes the opportunity see justice done against the people who perpetrated those crimes.”

The Post highlighted a situation in Massachusetts last year in which ICE deported criminal defendants in at least a dozen serious crimes cases, forcing prosecutors to abandon them altogether.

In one case, state officials were “forced to spend ‘extraordinary resources,’ according to WGBH, after a man was deported a month before his next hearing in a child rape case; the state had to work for five years to get him extradited to the U.S. to face trial.”

Read the full report.

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